Sectarian clashes near Beirut leave two dead

BEIRUT (AP) — Clashes broke out on Thursday night between rival gunmen at the southern entrance of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, leaving two people dead and three wounded, state-run National News Agency reported.

It was not immediately clear what triggered the violence but local media said the fighting began after supporters of the militant Hezbollah group raised religious banners and flags angering Arab tribesmen in the area.

The National News Agency said the two dead were a Lebanese and a Syrian citizen; the three wounded were members of the same family. The clashes took place around the highway that links Beirut with the country’s south. Lebanese troops closed the highway and redirected traffic to another road.

The fighting lasted nearly three hours and a nearby building was torched. The Lebanese army said it sent reinforcements to the area, known as Khaldeh, adding that troops detained four people, including two Syrians. A search was underway for others involved in the clash.

Tensions have escalated in Lebanon, grappling with its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.

Last week, a brief clash broke out in the same area when Hezbollah supporters tried to raise a poster of Salim Ayyash, a Hezbollah member charged by a United Nations (UN)-backed tribunal of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a huge suicide truck bombing in Beirut 15 years ago.

In its verdict August 18, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon convicted Ayyash and acquitted three others of involvement in the assassination, which sent shock waves through the Middle East.

The assassination deepened the sectarian divisions in Lebanon.